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Point from which creation begins: The Black Artists' Group of St. Louis Hardcover – November 29, 2004
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Distributed for the Missouri Historical Society Press
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St. Louis was home to one such collective, the Black Artists' Group (BAG) from 1968 to 1972. BAG was not the best-known BAM collective, nor the longest lived. But a close examination of its intensely productive life is instructive as it uncovers the impact of racial dynamics, debates over civil rights, black nationalism, and the role of the arts in political and cultural struggles found any time social concern meets artistic innovation.
As the author states, "Although the critics' gaze has focused mostly on the coasts, a richer, more complex, and more problematic vision of the Black Arts Movement emerges when regional cooperatives such as BAG are brought back into the light." Consequently, the book is more than simply a role call of famous innovative artists nurtured by BAG (Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and Emilio Cruz, to name but a few) as the author explores issues of controversy such as the recruitment of funding from white liberal sources...crucial to both BAG's founding and ultimately, its dissolution. But dissolution was simply another beginning as members moved on to play dominant roles in other spaces, both in the US and abroad.
The book is thoroughly researched and documented; the author conducted over 50 interviews with BAG artists and others, transcripts of which now reside at the Missouri Historical Society (when permitted by the interviewee.) I appreciated Looker's clear and concise style - his prose flows naturally and is a joy to read. I would have liked more images of visual arts, but this is a minor criticism and perhaps not even a fair one, since I've no idea of what's available. Additional resources include a discography of recordings led by BAG performers, 1970-73.
Highly recommended to anyone interested in the Black Arts Movement.
In other words, ACCORDING TO MAINSTREAM USA MEDIA, THE PEOPLE IN THIS BOOK DO NOT EXIST AND NEVER EXISTED.
The extremely fertile cultural movement exemplified by BAG, which was inspired by the great creative music organization founded by Muhal Richard Abrams in the early 60's called the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, phenomenon of this type is IGNORED to an extent that is really CRIMINAL. And I am told by people involved in this music scene (which still exists and thrives despite the neglect) that PBS will fund, produce and/or broadcast a series on the AACM, BAG and other collectives like it probably around the same time that HELL FREEZES OVER. I have seen Laurence Welk reruns on PBS, and Ken Burnes pathetically mediocre jazz series. But the AACM and BAG.... oh, well, never mind.
If you have any interest in quality art that speaks to the human condition and creativity, music that can make you really think and feel, I strongly recommend that you buy this book. Please.
This is the book I was thinking about writing myself, but never even came close to getting around to doing it. My life is just to loony and disorganized I guess. Benjamin Looker actually makes extensive use of an interview I did with on the the BAG founding members, Floyd LeFlore, (who I have played many concerts with and who happens to be one of the best friends I ever had). Floyd and I actually perform 2 of his poems with music on an album of mine, Consonants and Dissonants (Vid Recordings) by David Parker. (It's not listed in the books discography because technically the album isn't LED by a BAG member.) You can find the CD if you search Cadence Magazine's website, as well as someday on my website if I ever get the Vid Recordings website back on line (what I wrote earlier about being hopelessly disorganized).
It occurs to me that Laclede Town, which is written about fairly extensively in Benjamin Lookers book, should be documented a lot more in books. It is a neighborhood, brimming with an idealistic vibe, that sprang up in st. Louis in the 60s, that no longer exists. yet another historic reality that the powers that be doesn't want you to know about. I lived there for maybe 5 or 6 years old, our house just a stone's throw
away from LaClede Town's Circle Coffee Shop and Bookstore, (although I had no interest whatsoever at the time in the music that Oliver Lake and Floyd LeFlore were playing there). I remember attending Berea Presbyterian Church. Actually I remember very little, other than a general, and to me very very important highly idealistic and loving vibe that I think the USA needs a lot more of. (I actually heard Oliver Lake say the same thing, more or less.) I hope someone writes a book about Laclede Town.
Is there anyone out there reading this who grew up and or remembers Laclede Town. You are more than welcome to write me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I would like to hear your memories.
Dominic Schaeffer (his family, in fact, is an interesting story) has a little article about Laclede Town on the internet, [...] . Dominic endorses this book as well.
Oliver Lake, by the way, endorses this book on his website.
Oh to hell with it, let's just forget the past and become a bunch of mindless zombies repeating what they tell us on TV. Thinking creatively just takes too much effort.